Wednesday, September 28, 2005

What Caused the Storms?

There's another storm brewing in Alabama. While this one is of the political/theological variety, it does have to do with the hurricanes that recently ravaged the Gulf Coast. Senator Hank Erwin (R-Montevallo) publicly has stated, and written, that these storms were God's punishment for the rampant sin--especially gambling--associated with Mississippi and New Orleans. Prior to his election as state Senator, Hank Erwin was host of a local Christian talk show. Erwin was known for his strong, conservative, evangelical stand regarding a host of moral, and doctrinal issues.

Of course, Erwin's comments have been not so well received, by Christians and non-Christians alike. Christians, appalled by his comments, sadly, have belittled his intellect, and even questioned his interpretive integrity. A number of things have struck me while observing this controversy. First, Christians who take issue with Erwin must do so in an appropriate manner. We should not transgress Christian ethics when disagreeing with another brother.

Second, I, too, take issue with the dogmatic manner in which Erwin confidently ascribes the hurricanes as God's judgment on specific sin. At the same time, the concept of God's judgment in the space-time continuum is not outside the boundaries of biblical theology. There are instances in scriptrue--especially the prophets--where God punishes His people for the injustices in the nation. Amos, in particular, excoriates the people for oppressing the poor and threatens the impending judgment of God. He even mentions how God had held rain from one city, causing people to migrate to another, only to find insufficient water to quench their thirst (4:6-8). The concept of God's punishment through "natural" means is, therefore, not inconsistent with biblical revelation.

Third, the question of theodicy is a complex question to which the Bible gives equally complex answers. In other words, the Bible does not present only one answer to the question of suffering in its various forms. It offers a number of possibilities. Sometimes, as indicated above, God does punish His people. At other times, Satan brings about natural calamaties (Job). Still again, their are times when there is no apparent reason for one's suffering (John 9). It is irresponsible to dogmatically assert only one of these possible reasons for natural disasters when, obviously, there are other possibilities.

Finally, regardless of the etiology of the natural disaster, the body of Christ is to respond with the love of God. If the hurricanes had something to do with God's punishment, it wasn't just for the Gulf Coast residents, nor for a particular sin. It should serve as a wakeup call for our entire nation, and especially the church. While Hank Erwin mentions specifically gambling, perhaps the real sin has to do with oppressing the poor--something God despises. Has the church become numb to the plight of the oppressed in our society? Are we really concerned with the "least of these?" If God has passed judgment, perhaps we should look at these more insidious expressions of sin. In the end, though, it is not up to us to determine why. Jesus' disciples once wondered aloud why a man was born blind. They assumed that either he or his parents sinned to cause his congenital blindness. Jesus rejected sin as the source of such suffering. He simply said: "this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life" (John 9:3). Whatever the reason for the storms, may all those displaced by the storms experience the work of God in their lives. And, may the body of Christ be the conduit of His powerful grace.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Dirty Grays of Compassion

I ran accross this most descriptive phrase while reading an article giving a fresh--and provocative--look at the abortion issue from a evangelical Christian perspective. In a nutshell, the article articulated a prophetic vision for this admitted societal blight. For years, it seems that pro-life ministries have focused on the unborn child, marshalling compelling arguments that the fetus actually is human life. And, I personally think this conclusion is incontrovertible.

This article, on the other hand, focuses on the mother. It asks the compelling question: "What have we really accomplished when we've condemned abortion by demonstrating the humanity of an unborn child?" The article makes the point that while the fetus' humanity is now beyond medial dispute, attitudes really haven't changed.

As I reflected on this conversation, which really is representative of all brokenness in our world, several things came to mind. First, the church need not back away from the startling reality of sin. At it's heart, sin is a self-oriented approach to life that separates us from experiencing the dynamic life of God. This fallen reality needs to be exposed in whatever form it takes. Second, simply exposing sin does not necessarily lead to change. The article said that 1 in 6 abortions are by Christians. Most women, even those who have abortions, don't think it's a good thing. Sounds exactly like Paul's struggle with the reality of sin at work in his own body (Romans 7). Finally, the answer to the abortion question--and other equally complicated ones--is not simple. In the end, however, the body of Christ is to respond to sin in all it's presentations as Jesus did: enter into the dirty grays of compassion. He did this when he "ate with and received sinners" (Luke 15:1-2). He did this when he said to the woman taken in adultery: "Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more" (John 8). As we are known to put it: we really are to love the sinner and hate the sin.

BTW, have you ever wondered how to do this? As C.S. Lewis taught, there is one person with whom each of us enters into this dirty gray of compassion every day--the person in the mirror.

Monday, September 19, 2005

In His Presence: It's Reward Enough

What will heaven be like? There likely are as many answers to that question as their are inquirers. Biblical writers used imagery familiar to their day to capture the essence of the eschaton. City with no gates. Transparent gold streets. No tears. No death.

One's station in life tends to influence one's perspective of heaven. Many hymns that extol the opulence of heaven emerge, understandably, from the depression era. I can understand a depression era migrant worker thinking of "mansion awaiting for the end of life's troublesome way." I'm not so sure, however, that the blessing of heaven has to do with any material reward.

I learned what I think heaven really is about just this week. My mom and dad came for a visit this past week. They came primarily to see Zach, our 14 year old son, march in the Spain Park High School Band. Like his other siblings, he's a very gifted musician. Following in the rhythmic steps of his ole dad, he's a drummer--and quite a good one. Along with this, he, unlike his dad, is also a gifted vocalist, but I digress.

While my parents were here, my dad and I had a chance to go fishing together for a few hours on Thursday evening. While I was growing up, my dad and I fished together quite a bit. It was a special treat for me to engage in this shared experience with my dad again and, we had a blast.

Interestingly, we didn't catch very many fish. I caught two, embarrassingly small bass and my dad caught none. As we were packing up to leave, I express to my dad how bad I felt that he didn't catch a fish. Now, my dad isn't very expressive. When he speaks, however, it's from the heart.

In his matter of fact, but very tender way, he said: "Catching fish isn't what makes this fun, just being with each other makes the trip worth it." He couldn't have said it any better. That's when I realized an important truth. While we're trying to figure out all the trappings of heaven, I believe, once we're there, that we'll understand it's true blessing: just being with each other in the Father's presence will be reward enough.

"What is my hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy (1 Thess. 2:19).